How to ‘Instantly turn your project into a “kit”’

Promotion of this idea has focussed so far on the creators or builders of projects creating and publishing a shopping cart from the BOM to create the easy purchase kit. This is very challenging for anyone not experienced in electronics and sourcing of parts! Here are a few snippets of people talking about this issue.

Ihsan, Littlewire project wrote:

Being a full time researcher/student and preparing an OSHW product is so exhausting …

Bunnie has several very interesting posts on part sourcing issues. Bunnie, Mitch Altman and others often travel overseas to the manufacturer and especially check on parts. Even fledgling projects like MCHCK travel overseas trip trying to get cost from $5.85 to $5 ($7 if use someone to sell/support).

Maybe once you have done it ‘many’ times and restrict yourself to a fairly standard process and parts, it gets easier, but for most of us, those first big hurdles remain. Even very experienced project designers have challenges, and as Bunnie has posted, this is an issue for commercial companies.

Ian from DangerousPrototypes has almost 24 products totalling almost 1900 items (not counting Tshirts) in stock at his MAIN supplier (retail value $US40,000) said:

… evidently Seeed was plagued with these problems in the beginning and now they swear by the broker. ….. Seeed has more experience than I will ever have sourcing parts, and this is how they do some of it, so I thought it was an interesting meeting to share. I’ll probably never buy a bulk lot of chips ever.

There other ways than doing it ALL yourself, to turn a projects BOM into a shopping cart, or even a full kit. These alternate approaches can be especially helpful to those with little experience in sourcing.

One partial step in this direction is the just announced Club Jameco. Yes this is commercial, and no, I have no affiliation of any kind. From an open source view, the design agreement (contract) and the return that starts at “5% of Net Sales” are limiting, but Jameco have allowed designer to keep intellectual rights. Jameco also reserves the rights to sell the project any way it can but that does NOT prohibit the Designer from selling his/her own designs to others. For some people, especially those just getting into design, this might be a good way to go!

But this Jameco approach once again demonstrates again the worth of the basic idea – your project can be turned into a kit that many others will buy!  The reality of hardware open or closed is that most of the parts need to come from a commercial source!

If you are not keen on going this way, then publish your own PCB designs and a good BOM, and everyone can then take their own approach to building. Publishing your project is the key first step, then easing the pain of sourcing with good BOMs is a critical next step, even if you just publish how you sourced or scavenged and then encourage others to SUBMIT how they sourced, so you can publish for them.

There are existing commercial vendors who will review and might publish and sell your project, Sparkfun is one. Some only manufacture and do not provide any sourcing assistance, for example SeeedStudios, so that approach is harder – you need the expertise to source and supply, the where the Jameco approach does most of this for you!

Another approach is via electronics magazines, either as formal circuits, or as brief, less formal circuit ideas and then hope that one of the kit supplier companies will stock and sell the kit! Disadvantage is that magazines require a very high standard of projects and also there is only a small number of magazines publishing a small number of projects, so competition would be very high if many people tried this approach.

Hackerspaces already help members develop skills to do this and some directly assist members sell projects, so you may want to check out your local space!

An approach that does not yet seem readily available to hobbyists is use of professional services to help with PCB design rules, gerbers, part selection, price management, best production/distribution/support approach, before project is sent to  manufacturing companies like Seeed, or Mitch Altmans manufacturer Etonnet. So this is a shout out to for someone to create such a business!

Instantly turn your project into a “kit”

This previous post discussed some of the reasons why this is such a great idea.  Here are some examples of projects that are actually doing this!

Sqonk really gets’ the idea that published BOMs help others build his project. He has posted about building a

40-pin LPC1343 breakout board with 12 MHz crystal, USB Connect detection and disconnect, MicroBuilder’s single-button ISP, ISP Header and the standard LPCXpresso user LED. I added proper USB ESD/EMC handling, all this on a 5×2 cm board. All parts where purchased at Digi-Key, but I am working on the BOM to be able to order the parts from other online distributors that are easier to work with in Europe (Farnell, RS…).

He is taking the excellent step of creating carts with multiple suppliers including with the LOCAL branches to help minimise the dreaded shipping fees and hassles of customs and taxes!

It is this extra step of providing one or more shopping carts transforms a project plus BOM into an ‘instant kit’ and reduces the effort from finding and verifying every single part and balancing the multiple suppliers and delivery fees to just one or two simple purchases!

In this example SARduino644 v0.1 BOM at Mouser, Stan has seen a project he liked, created a shopping cart and very generously offered it for publication. This is a great way to build up many carts and also to get feedback on the how the parts went in the actual build!

Vinciduino is an open hardware project, a clone of the forthcoming Arduino Leonardo.” The project has blogged that: “Transparency in costs is something required when speaking about “open hardware” and there is a community working altruistically on it.” They also said that:

“it must be possible to go to a distributor of electronic components and order the component list, where, with a mouse click we get all the necessary components. Anyone who are not an expert in electronics will not know how to select the components for mounting the board, so if we want a total spread of the board, a component list must be provided, while this action is also useful to know the cost of the board.”

MC HCK is not only building a project using community input, but one of the key goals is a very low price point, so the sourcing and pricing of parts is a key part of the project work and discussion. This project has published the BOM, but not yet published any carts. Understandably that is not a priority when they need bulk purchasing to hit the $5 price, but it would be an useful to publish carts for those who want it ‘now’ and especially helpful to start building the momentum and refinement of this project before mass production!

Dangerous Prototypes have many BOMs with carts and also often discuss pricing and pricing approaches in some detail.

Of course these carts won’t return any % of sales to the projects creator, but that is no different for the “pure” open source process. Hopefully this will change in the not too distant future, once suppliers realise the benefit in providing easy ‘one click’ purchase will drive up their sales, I am confident they will offer, or the community can negotiate % of sales to ‘registered – recognised – or some terminology’ projects!

One really easy way that the suppliers could offer significant % of sales to project creators when they make that first sale, is to gather the parts for two, or five kits in the ONE SINGLE STEP. While this might add a tiny cost over the cost of gathering parts for one kit and does add a bit of inventory cost, it makes a huge saving on labour for gathering the parts for the next sale(s)! This process could even be a stepping stone into 10+ pricing for the project parts!

There are many additional ways that projects could work with suppliers to drive down project kit costs with this sort of partnership between project creators and part suppliers. For example, a project creator could provide funds to enable up front bulk purchase parts for say 100 kits, to drive down the cost, and of course encourage the supplier by reducing their risk! This situation suits pre-sale approaches ranging from a commitment to buy, to a dollar commitment.

So think about creating carts for your projects, or for a project you like, encouraging others to create carts and even pushing suppliers to provide this service!

Tools, parts and bedding in.

To help progress some projects and also to explore CPLD and FPGAs some CPLD breakout boards, a Bus Blaster and Open Logic Sniffer have been purchased from DangerousProtoypes (via SeeedStudio). To get started on the project ‘list’ some ATtiny85s, ATtiny2313As (pico power), ATMEGA328s and a Boarduino kit with have been purchased via the good folks at Xinchejian.

Unfortunately the Part Tester board, an ATXMEGA32A4U and some AtTiny’s  sent via two generous contributors in the DangerousProtoypes forums have taken the long way and not arrived after many months.

As often happens it is taking ‘a while’ to get all the new toys bedded in! Here are just some of the things that consumed lots of time:

  • Reinstalling a 2003 vintage Windows XP computer that did not like all the new USB devices and fatally blue screened.
  • On the main Linux development laptop, it has taken weeks learn how to get past the coms port not being installed for the Logic Analyser (a simple modeprobe did the trick!).
  • Some very puzzling issues trying to load firmware into the new Atmega 328s, where the new chips can be programmed via ISP in an Arduino but not on a bread board ISP circuit, yet older 328 chips already on hand do work in the same breadboard circuit!
  • Along the way, a misread resistor value on the reset line and incorrect jumper cabling on the coms port slowed things down as well!

Lots of times recently I pulled out my BusPirate to do things and I keep thinking just how good it is! Not only is it an excellent protocol analyser, but it has so many EXTRA uses, including ISP programmer, general purpose break out, logic analyser, serial pass through/FTDI, LCD driver, and even as a PC controlled power supply (on/off and select 3.3 or 5V – but hey when you are working away from your own desk – that is fantastic to have!)

The Open Logic Sniffer is now already proving it’s value by helping with debugging the Boarduino kit build and code on my current “pet” project.

Instantly turn your project into a “kit”… or any open project into a “kit”!

Instantly turn your project into a “kit”, or any other open project – is this possible? Yes, well nearly.  It is now easy to have your PCB produced and for sale on the web, but did you realise that you can also have your project part list “instantly” available for sale?

Dangerous Prototypes has made a great start with a central parts list for all their projects, plus of course the part list for each project, but the exciting bit is that they are also creating a ready made cart at one supplier.  I am sure others are doing similar as well. Imagine if the costs for these projects were automatically updated with current costs, plus “kit” and volume discounts.

While not all parts are always included, typically missing the PCB and a couple of parts, this is a huge step in being able to “painlessly” purchase most parts of a project. It almost turns the project directly into a kit. Of course the delivery cost still has to be factored in, but this is a great step forward.

Just image the powerful effect of having people look at your project and being able to “buy now”, when all you have to do is publish your project files and PCB layout.

Imagine when all the current project repositories have this – how many more purchases will go to suppliers? Imagine massive lists of projects with buy now that has current pricing and choice of supplier, even source your project from multiple suppliers (with due care to delivery costs)!

We all have a huge buying power and should be able to convince more suppliers to offer this functionality and we all  made sure to publish project parts lists in this fashion, then I am sure that:

  • competition amongst suppliers would start to reduce these “kit” prices
  • group purchases would also help drive prices down for some
  • suppliers would be able to improve internal processes and offer bigger discounts on these “kits”
  • all sorts of opportunities for percentage discounts, or percentage of sales would be possible

Octopart had a partlist, here is one example, for a while and are thinking of bringing it back, that would be another great way to wake up suppliers to this opportunity.

Now I don’t take credit for this idea, Dangerous Prototypes, Folknology & many others have been getting these ideas out there. There are also many related issues relating schematic and board design with part libraries. More on this in coming posts.

So, this is a shout out for everyone to:

  • encourage their favourite suppliers to add shareable shopping carts, and
  • use the shared shopping carts that already exist.

I have started a forum for further discussion on this.